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Norris tastes defeat for first time vs. Fish

Norris tastes defeat for first time

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HOUSTON -- After a long day of fielding questions of how the team would react to the trade of catcher Ivan Rodriguez, the Astros went out and tried to let their play on the field do the talking. The result wasn't what they had hoped for.

Making his second successive start against the Florida Marlins in six days, Bud Norris tossed five-plus innings but found himself on the losing end for the first time, as the Astros fell, 6-2, on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.

After a quality first inning that saw Carlos Lee belt his 20th home run of the season, the Astros' bats were held quiet by Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco, who retired 23 straight after Lee's home run and threw a complete-game three-hitter. The dominant outing came six days after the Astros gave Nolasco the worst defeat of his career, pounding out 10 runs off the right-hander in 3 1/3 innings in Florida.

"We just couldn't muster anything on the offensive side," manager Cecil Cooper said. "When you don't get but three hits -- and one after the first inning -- not a lot is going to happen."

Lee became the first Astros player this season to reach 20 home runs, launching a two-run shot over the left-field wall off Nolasco in the first inning to give Houston a 2-0 lead.

Lee's shot, which gave him at least 20 homers for the 11th straight season, also plated Lance Berkman, who had doubled. But after that, Nolasco went on cruise control.

"We faced [Nolasco] last week, but he hardly looked like the same guy," Cooper said. "He was tough on us. I thought he threw the same as he did down [in Miami] and stuff-wise he was pretty much the same, but we didn't hit but five or six balls hard all night."

After Lee's home run, Houston didn't have another hitter reach base until Michael Bourn's soft dribbler up the left-field line was bobbled by catcher John Baker with one out in the ninth inning.

The Astros struck out 10 times against Nolasco, who quickly rebounded to retire Miguel Tejada and Berkman with flyouts after Bourn reached to finish off the complete game.

"He made the adjustment on us," Bourn said. "He wasn't missing with too many pitches, and when a pitcher is doing that, it's tough to get at him. We hit some balls hard, but they didn't find any holes."

Norris had won his three previous big league starts, but those were with Rodriguez as his batterymate. With Rodriguez having been traded to the Texas Rangers prior to Tuesday's first pitch, Norris worked with Chris Coste, who was making his first start behind the plate since joining the Astros on July 11.

With an early lead, Norris kept the ball down early and let his defense work behind him. Through the first two innings, five of his six outs came via ground balls, but he took his lumps in the fourth. The right-hander allowed three hits in the frame, including a solo home run to Dan Uggla that just cleared the reach of right fielder Hunter Pence's glove to tie the game at 2.

"[Norris] got in a little bit of a mess in the sixth, but other than that I thought the kid pitched OK," Cooper said. "In the early innings, he really cruised along pretty good, but that one mistake cost him and led to the big inning."

Norris retired the Marlins in order in the fifth, but he struggled again in the sixth and wouldn't escape the inning. After getting Hanley Ramirez for the first out of the frame, Norris yielded hits to the next five Marlins, allowing a solo home run to Jorge Cantu to surrender the lead, then loading the bases and yielding a single and a walk to push the Astros' deficit to 5-2.

"We all know that's a tough lineup top to bottom," Norris said. "In the sixth, I made the pitch I wanted to make [to Cantu], but he's a great hitter and hit it out of the ball park. That got them going in that inning, and the rest was history."

Jason Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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